Teaching English in Asia: the magic of the Far East

With Asia being the most populous continent on the planet, it’s no wonder it is home to so many contrasting countries, histories, ethnicities, beliefs and traditions. Exploring Asia has become a rite of passage for many intrepid, culture hungry travellers.

Up until the turn of the millennium the majority of westerners travelling to Asia were young backpackers looking to explore the ancient world before more often than not, heading back to the west in order to embark on a more serious career journey. Today the gap year students and vocational nomads are more likely to be outnumbered by western businessmen, students and even young entrepreneurs.

Asia is the centre of economic attention, with the likes of India joining China and Japan as growing world powerhouses, and it is having a rippling effect throughout the continent. Economies are growing, manufacturing and production bases are moving in with foreign investment, and major cities are undergoing rapid modern development, whilst all the while economies in the west continue to face hard times and uncertainty; Asia has become an exciting place to be for some many reasons.

The Teaching Option!

Teaching English in Asia has long been a popular choice for young and single teachers, it has always been an interesting highlight on a CV or Resume, for those who make a career out of teaching as well as those who move on to other things. In a current western climate of high unemployment, those with teaching skills, and equally those who are ambitious and motivated enough to give it a go, can take the option of teaching in Asia very very seriously!

Those teaching English as a foreign language get paid well throughout the entire Asian region with only a few exceptions. Demand for native English teachers and those with experience and/or qualifications (TEFL, ESL, TESOL, CELTA etc) is as high as ever.

Getting a teaching job can often be fairly easy, many employers and agencies will actively recruit new teachers whilst still in their home countries, some even offering paid airfares and free accommodation, even going as far as supplying free teacher training and recognised TEFL qualifications before you arrive! Those who arrive in Asia with a little experience and/or a recognised TEFL/TESOL certificate, and a bit of organisation and research, can do so with good optimism, often finding a job within a few weeks, if not days!

Because of the huge demand for good teachers you don’t need a lot of experience to teach in Asia, in some cases you can teach with none at all. It’s very possible to get a job without experience, without teaching qualifications, and even without a Bachelor’s degree, but for every one of the those you do have your opportunity for work increases, as does your potential earnings.

For your consideration..

Asia is generally quite a fast paced way of life, especially for a foreigner new to the region, but whilst you will find friendly, warm and welcoming locals throughout, working out which country best suits you can be a fairly arduous task. Here are a few notes on some of the continent’s most popular TELF destinations to help you get started:

China is becoming increasingly more welcoming to foreign workers, making it an ever more attractive option for educators both new and experienced. English language teachers are in high demand as new schools and language courses seem to be popping up all over the country, and more and more companies are recruiting for corporate TEFL teaching. The pay is good and getting better, with jobs in the big cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing, now rivalling the pay in the continent’s previous ‘go to’ teaching destinations, South Korea and Japan. With highly populated cities and contrasting regions of vast farmland and countryside, it’s very possible to choose a face paced, high tech city life, or a more serene, unhurried, traditional Oriental existence, with the ancient world and open doors to history never far away.

Despite the high cost of living, Japan has long been one of the dream destinations for new TEFL teachers. Whilst other parts of Asia now offer equally interesting and financially rewarding adventures, Japan is still an attractive option. English language teacher salaries have dropped a little over the last decade, bringing them more in line with the rest of the continent, but you can certainly still earn enough to live on. Despite the reduced earning potential in Japan there are plenty of good teaching packages and benefits to be found, including free visas, travel and accommodation, as well as paid holidays and end of contract bonuses. If you choose to teach away from the bright lights of the major cities the cost of living is also substantially lower. Japan really is a culture that has something for everyone; Food, art, history and still one of the most technologically advanced places in the world. The countryside and mountains are breathtaking, the big cities are eventful and vibrant and with some of the best nightlife in the east.

South Korea remains one of the best TEFL teaching destinations on the map, high salaries, excellent benefits and packages are almost always on offer, with good food and exciting nightlife to boot. It’s a great option for first time teachers, with a solid education system and a high level of respect for visiting educators and foreign workers. Such is the potential for earning money as an English language teacher in Korea, one can expect to live a full and active life with opportunity to save and leave with money in your pocket. Add to this the constant high demand for native English teachers and those with TEFL or TESOL qualifications; South Korea is a strong option for anyone.

Similar to Korea, Taiwan offers its English language teachers the opportunity to earn good money, live a comfortable and still save money on top. Taiwan is very ‘foreign friendly’ with many Taiwanese much more welcoming to western visitors than to their fellow countrymen! The upside of working in Taiwan is the simple opportunity to earn a high salary for relatively few hours, and in most cases the teaching opportunities are with small classes and young well behaved children. The downside is that unlike Korea, Japan and Thailand, the nightlife and social scene in Taiwan tends to be very tame, and with a much smaller expat community.

Whilst Southeast Asia has a reputation for being the backpackers choice, and moreover, a place where broke gap year students go to make a quick baht (dollar), the potential for English teaching in Thailand should be taken far more seriously. Teaching jobs in Thailand pay decent salaries, far more than the average Thai work could expect to earn, and the demand for native English speakers is as high as ever. With a large expat community and plenty of opportunities for novice and inexperienced teachers, it really is one of the perfect teaching destinations for new teachers to break in their educational teeth (so to speak). Despite TEFL teaching wages not being overly large, the cost of living in Thailand is low, and it’s possible to live a very comfortable life on the average English teaching wage, whether that be on a tropical Island, out by the vast jungle and wilderness, or amongst the hustle and flow of Bangkok, and some of the wildest non-stop nightlife known to man!

Whilst Thailand often gets all the attention in Southeast Asia, teaching English in Cambodia is an interesting option for anyone wanting a truly authentic Asian experience. Due to a torrid recent history Cambodia is still under developed and very much of the third world, even its capital city, Phnom Penh feels more ‘wild west’ the ‘new east’. The teaching wages are not great, in fact many travellers are so charmed by the country and its warm, loving people and simple way of life, that often voluntary teaching positions gain competition for places. For those who are less motivated by money and more eager for a real ‘off the beaten track’ experience, Cambodia should be looked into.
5 Asia Experiences to add to your bucket list

Take the Bullet Train to Mt Fuji

Without doubt one of the greatest natural sights on the planet, Mt Fuji is a must see world attraction. Getting there via one of Japan’s super high speed trains is the only way a true travel should do consider!

– Take a boat to Ayutthaya

No trip to Thailand should be with a journey to the ancient temples of Ayutthaya. The most memorable way to make the journey is via a river cruise from Bangkok, leaving the new capital and journeying into the ancient capital of Siam, passing the grand Wat Mahatthat and mystical Buddha head, slowly unravelling the story of old Thailand.

Experience the amazing Angkor Wat

Considered to be the world’s largest religious monument, Angkor Wat is the pride of Cambodia, and one of the most breathtaking sites of the world. One should set aside at least 2 days to walk around the mesmerizingly beautiful ancient temples and palace.

Make your move!

Whether planning to take on the skyscrapers of Beijing, the suburbs of South Korea, or the hustle and flow of Bangkok, you are very likely to find you first experiences of Asia a major culture shock. Among the initial challenges will be daunting language barriers, confusing traditions and hard to understand cultural idiosyncrasies. The cities can be completely disorientating, and the vast barren landscape, jungles and mountain ranges can be intimidating.

With that said, your introduction and transition into the mystical Eastern world can be a real test of character and will, but one that once conquered opens up a whole new world of unique fulfilling experiences and mind blowing adventures. So many people come to Asia to teach or travel for just one season of their life, and so many of them find it difficult, if not impossible to leave.

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